occasionally, someone asks me if i meditate. i usually say i write. choosing between writing and meditation is like choosing between black coffee and black coffee--variations exist, but the end result is much the same.
however, i do think there are similarities that deserve exploration from a writer's perspective. meditation begins with an upward gaze, meant to trigger the alpha state. there is a monitoring phase, taking stock of our inner state, an inquiry, if you will. and then a look outward, a kind of benevolent reconnaissance that asks how the outer world is receiving us, as we settle in to "sit" with our attention on observing, rather than engaging.
that's how i see writing, the pen is moving as a result of observations that become the story, not because i'm actually living or acting out these observations in the present. i'm simply actively observing.
and finally, there is whatever we do to essentially signal that we've closed our meditation period for the day. it may be enough to straighten the legs and get up, but then, how would that distinguish this pause from a having a meal or watching a TV show? there must be something specific to meditation.
i used to do housekeeping for a number of people at an ashram, and i remember one woman who chanted throughout and there were certain phrases that "finished" the session. but she also ran a business and on one morning when she was running late, she left her meditation space without saying those final words, and hurried out of the house. then she came back to sit in the same space, sit and say those words, then left again, looking calmer, less harried and yet, moving with intention.
she wasn't a particularly compulsive type, so this left me feeling that completing the ritual, whatever that might be or mean, was as important as the rest of the process.
in writing, i often finished a session by checking the word count, looking over the finished pages with an eye to having begun an idea, but not having carried through with that thought before another occurred to me and i ran with that one. without this kind of clearing the deck, i found it difficult to go on to a next project mindfully, whether it was grooming the dog or weeding the garden. so it seemed to me there were four steps, steps followed with a kind of lighthearted persistence, if such a thing exists.
for purposes of creating specific meditations, i've labeled these four steps and they might be used like this:
upward gazing: this story's main character is quiet, so quiet she's not even talking to me. but when she does speak, she's down to the essentials.
inner inquiry: what does her inner dialogue (or monologue) sound like? this often inspires a stream of consciousness written page: a lot of stuff i didn't know i knew about this character.
outer perceptions: when she does speak, what kind of thoughts occur to the person she's talking to? i can go right back into the page i've written and write replies. nothing of this needs to go into the story as is, but as in acting, it can inform behaviors.
calming diligence: i like to go back to that quiet character and "see" how her facial expression has changed, how her body language reads now that i've got a handle on her inner being.
on another day:
upward gazing: i'm reluctantly facing the fact that this story needs something. not another character, i have enough players in the game. but what if one of them had qualities, and perhaps even a name, that suggested an animal. something i love for a character i love, or something indicative of an antagonistic character, if that's the character i work on. i have a beetle in something i'm working on now.
inner inquiry: if i give this rather ordinary character canine-like qualities, and a change of name to Gopher, how will that affect the story?
outer perceptions: write a page or two from this character's fresh point of view, write it with what is already known of the story, and within the role the character has played so far, but now he has a new persona.
calming diligence: if there is something workable on the page, go back through the story to "see" this new persona in place. having made a copy of the file (so the original is still safely unchanged) revise the story to fit the new vision, rewrite where necessary, and save.
and another day:
upward gazing: sometimes the easiest way to get to the heart of a matter is to imagine that all the options have left the building. what if my main's "other," be it ally or antagonist, a mentor or parent or sibling, has died, and now, the things that might have been said can't be heard.
inner inquiry: but if they could speak to someone lost to them, here's what feels most important. . .
outer perceptions: in what way would the story change?how do i feel about that? a scene centers around one main event that changes the world of the story, so it would be helpful to find a significant scene to rewrite from that perspective.
calming diligence: save the changes to consider another day, and go on to declutter a corner or something.
a walking meditation:
upward gazing: what if, in this story, the characters all greet each other by exchanging an object? or, if not an object, an aphorism that holds significance for them personally?
inner inquiry: now there's something more than time-filling behaviors like making tea and folding towels to work with in the spaces between bits of dialogue. how to use those most meaningfully? it's helpful to know the language of fairy tale metaphors, the golden ball being the future stretching out before the princess, the object hidden in a pocket is a deeper meaning, the poisoned apple--well, we all get the poisoned apple. jung did a huge encyclopedia on storytelling symbols, and a lot of them were objects.
outer perceptions: somehow i feel our characters will inform us, i don't think it's necessary to assign these objects or aphorisms. perhaps some worthwhile time would be spent looking through our work for the ones that are already in place, but that we haven't 'worked' to their full potential. often, as we look through our own body of work, we find there are repeated symbols that have special meaning for us.
calming diligence: as i make a list of the kinds of symbols i find in my own work, i can do a little soul searching, and figure out what my writing is trying to tell me.
a resting meditation:
upward gazing: there are certain elements i like to look for as i read my own work and others. secrets, and dreams (although editors were for a long time really sick of finding dream sequences in novels and possibly still are, but good ones still do the job of relaying information to the reader), and wishes, even the fairy tale variety, meaning, the obvious wish. but i think the thing i look for most often and love finding (and love writing, even into children's books) is a love story.
inner inquiry: some of my love stories are romances, being developed over the younger character's head, like the parental voices in the charlie brown cartoons, as i did in jake. some are simply the love stories of every day, found in unexpected kindness and extraordinary effort, offered without any desire for compensation. and some are like elinor's story, once an 'outdoor dog,' she's now rescued and enjoying the comforts of a cushy pillow, loving life. what love story is seeded into the work, that's the inner inquiry.
outer perceptions: find the seeds and grow them with a written exploration.
calming diligence: just feel the love, all day long.
a meditation on shared experience:
upward gazing: if there was one healing thing anyone in the story could say, what would it be?
inner inquiry: how would they convey this message? it's important not to get too sentimental in a story, and we certainly don't want to sound preachy. perhaps there's a way a character could demonstrate that message, rather than say something, their actions making the message acceptable and uplifting.
outer perceptions: once the message is in mind, draw a circle on a page, choose a word (or two) that encapsulates the message and write it in the circle. draw spokes out from the circle and at the end of each put a characters name or initials, and a few words that suggest how they might demonstrate that message. sometimes these few words grow into an accompanying page.
calming diligence: if one of these characters appears to be the more surprising, but still plausible choice, it would be useful to make this the subject of tomorrow's meditation.
this post is probably too long already, so elinor and calliope and i are going to head into the kitchen for the mini meditation called "what's for lunch?" pictured above, they've just finished their rainy day job of tearing out most of the freshly planted pelargoniums. they do know how to build an appetite.
i hope these meditations are useful to you on your writing journey.
audrey couloumbis can be found at audreycouloumbisbooks.com
and of course, here at children's book academy every first wednesday, writing for you. sometimes she uses caps, but not today.
Meet the Wednesday Blogateers
First Wednesdays will feature Orel Protopopescu, multi-published award -winning author and poet.
Follow our Blogs!
Join our Tribe
and receive 7 Steps to Creative Happiness, access to free webinars, and lots more!
Your email addresses are always safe and respected with us.